「密林の呼び声」 (Mitsurin no Yobigoe)
“Welcome to the Jungle”
As you know, Babylonia is one of the later chapters of this Fate/Grand Order story arc and while each chapter of F/GO is fairly self-contained, there is an overarching narrative that each one builds up. I’ve been expecting Babylonia to give us some flashbacks for the sake of new viewers and here we are. However, a lot of these callbacks are presented without any context whatsoever so they less fill holes than just alert you that holes exist even as we’re stepping into them. There’s this ‘King of Mages’, he’s bad, we’re moving on. As for Lots of Fire and Suddenly Mozart… forget context. Know that our protagonists have had character development, we didn’t get to see any of it, but just trust that it Definitely Did Happen. Speaking of no context, I’ve been challenged to keep my paragraphs to at most six lines so if there are some arbitrary
breaks, you know why.
A good half of this episode (leading up to the trek to Ur) actually felt like various scenes of exposition stitched together; there’s a lot of information that still needs to be dumped on us. So a random prophet, a Chaldean Cup Collection there, and a lecture about demonic beasts that we don’t have time for. Here we see one of the main weaknesses of the F/GO game as a writing medium. It really is just a bunch of talking heads. This would normally just be visual novel but F/GO also knows that it’s supposed to be a game so it also needs to throw in a battle once in a while, interrupting its own flow. On top of that, it’s a smartphone game so it needs to cater to smartphone attention spans, with shorter strings of text and with a mind for the relatively brief play sessions of these games. And Nasu’s writing style is not exactly conducive to brevity.
What happens in practice is that while Babylonia is just as or even more information-dense as any similarly lengthed visual novel, it has to spread all of that out between many different scenes. It’s easier to parse that in the game, because it’s abstracted to text and talking heads, but when rendered into visuals in an anime adaptations it’s easier to see the cuts, so to speak. And here is where adapters need to do extra work. We didn’t come here to listen to Merlin or Roman wax on about mythological monster mechanics on their exposition radio show (for the record: would totally subscribe to the Merlin podcast). We’re here for anime. So, got to add a pretty sunset. Maybe some spooky effects to the Random Act of Kindness Karma Station. That is, this is a visual medium and the story should be told visually and flow visually. Well, ‘should’.
This is why I usually approve of adaptations taking liberaties with the source, because it’s an opportunity to do better and to take advantage of that we need to be flexible. In the game, the trip to Ur was mostly functional, an opportunity to dump information about beasts and goddesses and to introduce yet not explain the quack phenomenon that is Jaguarman. The anime uses its visual advantage to add a layer of emotion that the game lacks. This version of Ur has both rain and tears. Merlin gets time to indulge his serious face. And, perhaps most importantly, this became a character moment. A fight in which Ana gets kicked around once again demonstrates that Jaguarman may be a silly character but serious business. And while the protagonist in the game is equally passive and silent, in the anime he actually has to agonise over retreating.
Arguably any character they give Fujimura Ritsuka, up to and including his name, is a liberty of adaptation. In the game s/he is definitely of the Persona school of protagonist design i.e. not lacking in personality per se but lacking enough to be sufficiently malleable. The player is prompted to choose a line of dialogue on their behalf now and again but they’re still a self-insert in the end and is not about to do any introspection. So anything the anime gives Ritsuka is a plus (though let us remember that we all prefer our Links silent and the less said about the cartoon the better). So it’s actually this episode that has me feeling all-around positive about this adaptation. It’s true enough to the overall plot and narrative but it’s confident enough to mix things up to its benefit. That is, it can be its own thing. That’s what I hope for in adaptation.